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Thursday, October 16, 2008
The Talented Mr. Roto: Loving to hate those Cowboys

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

Finally. Finally, a legitimate reason to hate the Cowboys.

As longtime readers know, I'm a Redskins fan. I lived in Virginia until I was 12 (and then moved to Texas, where I grew up and consider myself being from) and it was in good ol' Richmond, Va., that, long before learning about girls, I discovered football cards and the Washington Redskins.

I was 12 before I realized that team from Texas wasn't actually called "The Stupid Dallas Cowboys," because I'd never heard them referred to as anything but. Of course, the word wasn't "stupid" but rather something I can't say on a family-friendly Web site. Let's use … the Soapy Dallas Cowboys. Because soap is also a hygiene product.

So I've always hated the Soapy Cowboys as a result. But, of course, my "fandom" has had to take a backseat to fantasy analysis. Because from a fantasy perspective, you have to love them Cowboys. Elite fantasy players all over the place. Can't say anything bad about Dallas other than the fact I hope they lose and my beloved Redskins win.

Until now.

Look, succeeding as a fantasy football analyst or player is tough enough. Our job is to predict the future, which is, frankly, impossible. And we have to do that impossible something for more than 250 individual players. Every week.

Me, I study trends, data, scouting, take my own experience of playing fantasy for more than 20 years, look at the stats, watch all the games and look at film, analyze matchups, consider injuries, talk with other analysts and scouts here at ESPN and then I combine that with knowledge of how fantasy football differs from real football to make recommendations on whom to draft, avoid, start, sit, pick up and trade away. You guys and gals do at least some of what's on this list every week as well. That's what playing fantasy football is all about. And you know what we don't need?

Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones: This isn't the face of a franchise you can love. Just sayin'.

The Soapy Dallas Cowboys jerking us around with this Tony Romo stuff. I mean, it's not like we don't have enough variables here. If it's not Mike Shanahan and his running back depth chart or Bill Belichick playing games with his injury reports, it's running backs by committee and obscure tight ends getting end-zone looks. It's Joseph Addai and Fred Taylor leaving the game in the first few minutes; it's the Giants' defense putting up negative points -- negative! -- against the Browns; and it's DeSean Flippin' Jackson tossing a touchdown away on the 1-yard line.

It's. Hard. Enough.

Romo was out two to four weeks. OK. We can deal with that. We're not happy, but we can deal with that. We look at Brad Johnson, we upgrade Marion Barber, so on and so forth. Fine. But now Romo wants to play. But the team isn't sure.

Come on! You trade for Roy Williams, things haven't been quiet on the Pacman front and now this? The nuttiest week of the season in Dallas and Terrell Owens has nothing to do with it. What? No, seriously. What?!?

I'm done. I've had it. This whole season has been nuts. Well, too bad Dallas. I hate you and I'm calling you out. You lost to Arizona, you should have lost to the Bengals, you need good karma in the worst way. Don't make millions of fantasy players angry. Make a call on Romo and be done with it. And if he starts, there had better be actual brain matter flowing out of Romo's head before I see Brad Johnson, okay? Anything short of an actual bone poking out through that stupid blue star on the uniform and he's on the field the whole time, you hear me?

And I just know that, the minute after I file this, the Cowboys will make some sort of announcement making all this moot as well. Argh. Seriously -- can't stand Dallas.

OK, thanks for letting me vent. Let's get to work and break it all down: You're playing Marion Barber, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten regardless.

If Brad Johnson gets the start, I'm only playing him if I have no better options. (See my rankings, updated Friday afternoon, for the extensive list of whom I consider better options).

If Romo is playing, I'm starting him and he'll be in my top 10. Because if the Cowboys think he's good enough to play, I'll trust that, even though they're jerking us around right now. Come Sunday, it'll be for real.

I'm not starting Roy Williams unless I play in a 12-team or deeper league, I have to start at least three wide receivers, Romo is starting, and I'm not thrilled with any of my other options.

I'm not playing Patrick Crayton regardless. With Williams in town, there aren't enough balls to be thrown to accommodate him, T.O., Witten and another receiver, no matter who is throwing the ball.

If Johnson goes, rookie running back Tashard Choice is an interesting flex play in 12- and 14-team leagues where the bottom of the barrel is being scraped.

With that, let's get to it. By this point, if you don't get what I'm doing here by now, you never will. But because it came up last week, when a reader dropped Steve Slaton for Le'Ron McClain, I'll just say you should always check my rankings if you really want to know how I feel about one player over the other, and remember that rankings and Love/Hate are for the current week only.

Week 7 Players I Love

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers: I always say "no obvious names," and I'm depressed that LT is no longer an obvious name. Some people benched him last week, and on the road against the Bills' solid rush defense, people might consider doing the same this week. Plus, he didn't practice Wednesday, which is never a great sign. But he's averaging 118 rushing yards in his past three games against the Bills, he had two scores last year against them, and I expect San Diego to run the ball a lot on the road.

Trent Edwards, QB, Bills: He's averaging 10 more pass attempts at home than he is on the road this season. Plus, the Chargers have given up the second most passing yards in the league and are tied for the third-most passing touchdowns allowed.

Lee Evans, WR, Bills: Guess who Edwards is throwing to?

Josh Reed, WR, Bills: At least five targets in four straight games. For those in 12-team leagues in need of a third receiver … well, here he is.

Kyle Orton
Are you sportin' Orton? If not, then you should be courtin' Orton.
Kyle Orton, QB, Bears: This was sent to me by "Gasface," through my ESPN Fan Profile page: "I'm high on Orton. I guess you could say I'm 'Snortin' Orton.' You have gorilla-sized onions if you use that in a column." Done and done, Gasface. Look, there's a reason I've been sportin' the Kyle Style over the past month. He now has scored at least 15 fantasy points in four straight weeks, has eight touchdowns during that time, and only Kurt Warner and Drew Brees have more passing yards in that timeframe. Oh yeah, and the way you beat the Vikings is through the air.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears: Guess who the Bears' leading receiver is?

Devin Hester, WR, Bears: Has three scores in his past three games against Minnesota, and three straight games with at least eight fantasy points.

Gus Frerotte, QB, Vikings: The Bears are currently ranked 27th in the NFL against the pass, they'll be focused on Adrian Peterson, and there were nine, count 'em, nine members of the Bears defense who either missed practice entirely or were limited Wednesday. In fact, I just got a call for a tryout.

Bernard Berrian, WR, Vikings: You either like guys going against their former team or you do not. In this case, I do.

Mewelde Moore, RB, Steelers: Lost in the Joseph Addai news is that Willie Parker suffered a setback. The Bengals have the worst rush defense in the NFL, which means me likey Me-welde.

Chris Johnson and LenDale White, RBs, Titans: Only two teams have more rushing touchdowns this season than the Titans, and Tennessee is 12th in the NFL in rushing offense. Plus, Johnson is actually tied for second on the team in receptions. Meanwhile, Kansas City has given up the third-most rushing touchdowns in the league and gives up more than 180 yards per game on the ground.

Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: He's at home. He's all the Rams have. I like the dreads. At least two of those points are relevant here.

Torry Holt, WR, Rams: I know ESPN sort of swept it under the rug, but apparently Pacman Jones is no longer with the team. Terence Newman is also banged up, and the Cowboys' secondary wasn't all that great to begin with. By the way, deeper-league owners looking for a hail mary-type sleeper should look into Donnie Avery. Don't be surprised to see him get deep for a score.

Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens: They say old people do well in Miami.

Greg Camarillo, WR, Dolphins: Samari Rolle and Dawan Landry are definitely not playing, and at least a few other members of the Ravens' secondary are banged up. Camarillo has the most targets on the team, and he had more than 100 yards the only time he has played the Ravens (in 2007). Also, I think Chad Pennington will be OK here (not great, but serviceable) if you're desperate.

Miami defense/special teams: This unit has eight sacks in its last three games, and now they play at home against a rookie quarterback.

Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, RB, Giants: Only five teams have given up more rushing touchdowns than the Niners, this week's opponent.

Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Giants: The G-men are angry, and they're at home -- they're like me on nights when "The Daily Show" is a repeat. By the way, Smith has had 13 targets in his past two games, almost double what Amani Toomer has had.

NY Giants defense/special teams: The 49ers give up a lot of sacks. Like, a lot. I mean, you really have no idea. A ton. Just sayin'. It's a bunch. Like, come up with a number in your head. I'll wait. Yeah, it's higher than that. Seriously. Loads of sacks.

Lance Moore, WR, Saints: At least seven receptions in three of his past four games, and the one game he didn't was that Reggie Bush-returns-everything Monday night game, in which the Saints' offense was hardly on the field. The Panthers will concentrate on Bush and the returning Marques Colston, leaving Moore free.

Jake Delhomme and Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers: You're already playing Steve Smith. And Jake has 376 yards and four touchdowns over his past two games against the Saints. Muhammad will get his share, too.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: Last. Man. Standing.

All your Texans: Including Kevin Walter. They're this week's winners of the "Who gets to play Detroit?" sweepstakes.

JaMarcus Russell, QB, Raiders: Again, if you're hurting at quarterback, the Jets have given up the 13th-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Russell won't have a great game here, but I'll bet he gets to double-digit fantasy points.

Zach Miller, TE, Raiders: He's averaging 71 yards per game in his past three games at home, and the Jets give up the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Brett Favre, Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Jets: Did you know that in Morocco goats climb argan trees to consume their delicious berries, which are similar to olives? You didn't? Hey, why do all the facts gotta be about football? Oh, and I could see tight end Dustin Keller doing well here, too. The Raiders are among the bottom 10 in pass defense and have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Dominic Rhodes, RB, Colts: You can run on Green Bay. And by "you," I actually mean "you." Seriously. If you replace Rhodes this week, shoot me a note.

Ryan Grant
He can't stink seven weeks in a row ... right?
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers: Here lies Matthew Berry. He believed in Ryan Grant. But you know what? I'm going in for one more week. Only three teams in the NFL have given up more rushing yards per game than the Colts, and Grant has increased his yardage and touches for three straight weeks.

Jeff Garcia, QB, Buccaneers: Garcia isn't great, but he has thrown a touchdown pass in every game he has played this year, he might get receiver Joey Galloway back this week, and he's at home against the Seahawks and their 22nd-ranked pass defense. If Galloway plays this week, I like him as a "love," too.

Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, RB, Buccaneers: This ain't Seattle's year. Just sayin'.

Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots: There are only two games this year in which Morris has not scored a touchdown, and there are only five teams in the NFL who have given up more rushing touchdowns than Denver.

Matt Cassel, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Patriots: I expect them to be fired up at home on Monday night in a must-win game against a bad defensive team.

Week 7 Players I Hate

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Putting him here burned me last week, but I never like guys on West Coast teams going to the East. Especially facing a team coming off a bye and that is currently ranked top-10 in the NFL in pass defense. Rivers has also had two poor games in his past three. And yes, he will be moving down in my Friday rankings update.

Adrian Peterson
The agony of life without the TMR's love.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: I want to be crystal clear here: If you own him, you must start him. But for those of you who play Gridiron Challenge or other salary cap games, I don't like him on the road against the Bears and their sixth-ranked rush defense. I know, he went nuts on them last year. This is not last year and Peterson has single-digit fantasy points in three of his past four.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Believe it or not, the Bengals actually have a good pass defense. Cincy is top-10 in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

Larry Johnson or anyone else, RBs, Chiefs: I feel the way about LJ the way I feel about the Cowboys. And since LJ will now sit out this game, I'll just say that I don't like anyone going against that Titants D, let alone a backup.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Chiefs: More a gut call than anything else, but I'm guessing he feels a bit deflated after not getting the trade and the Titans are allowing only 3.8 fantasy points a game to opposition tight ends.

Kerry Collins, QB, Titans: Even if you are desperate, you can do better. Like, Joe Flacco better.

Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice, RBs, Ravens: Splitting carries and the Dolphins are at home with a top-5 rush defense.

J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers: Hard to throw from your back. Even harder to come up with a different joke, apparently.

Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Just because it happened once doesn't mean it will happen again. Can't tell you how many dates I've been on during which I've heard that line.

Deuce McAllister, RB, Saints: A lot of running backs much better than Deuce have been stopped by Carolina.

Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Panthers: Very quietly, the Saints' rush defense is now 14th-best in the NFL. They've now held Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson and the Raiders' running backs to under 100 yards rushing in the past three weeks. The Saints have given up only three rushing touchdowns in six games and two of them were to Clinton Portis, who scores on everyone.

Any Lion not named "Calvin": Say what you want about the Lions, but … No, seriously. Say what you want -- it's probably true.

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Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: See running backs, Ravens. Except the Jets are top-3 rush defense and, while this isn't technically a fantasy category, Kris Jenkins is the man.

Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: Another one I had dead wrong last week but I'm putting him back here. He only caught three passes, he still looks slower to me and the Packers' secondary is healthier than the Ravens'. Plus, the game is at Green Bay, where I expect Indy to run the ball.

Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Browns: It was a great story last week. But the Redskins are wide awake now after the loss to the Rams and will no longer take the Browns lightly.

Jason Campbell, QB, Redskins: I don't think he has a big game here, either. Cleveland's got an underrated secondary. Eli learned that the hard way.

Julius Jones, RB, Seahawks: The Bucs have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this year.

Seneca Wallace, QB, Seahawks: It's not like the Seahawks' passing game is all that swift, either.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also hates the Yankees, the Longhorns and unicorns. He is a four-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend